Tuesday, July 6, 2010

more mild than leise

Stumbling around on Netflix's instant watch, searching for something to pass the time, I came across this gem:

Yes, folks, this is a genuine Tristan und Isolde animated family film. I debated whether or not to watch it, but after reading these comments, how could I not?

Now, to review: apparently it has a happy ending, and there's also a "total random musical scene." To not at least check these out would be journalistic, musical, and scholarly neglect on my part.

That said, you can put up a small defense for giving Tristan a happy ending. First of all, it's not Wagner's story exclusively, and its transformation into myth gives it the same leeway that all mythology gets in translation. Remember, Jacobo Peri's and Giulio Caccini's Orfeo "operas" of 1600 ended with Orpheus rescuing Eurydice and the two living happily ever after. And let us not forget that Prokofiev's original version of his Romeo and Juliet ballet ended with the lovers 100% alive, until Soviet censors told him to change it (more on that here). Myths retain their vitality through changes, most gradual but some significant.

And, one could argue that, like the Ring, Tristan und Isolde does not actually have a "tragic" close. Tristan's agony is ended by his death; Isolde sings her Liebestod and the two are whisked away to be together. The final shimmering resolution of the drama's infamous chord symbolizes a love made perfect, one that could not abide in their imperfect reality.

Nowtwo lovers dying probably isn't a happy ending by second-rate Disney standards. So let's see what happens in this thing.

It opens with an excruciating prologue with some kind of cat beast setting the scene, outlining the basic story for a flying pack of fairies ("What, I'm telling it my way, okay!"). It's also in horrible quasi-3D reminiscent of this travesty.* I skipped around after that--didn't see any boat, just more fairies, a talking horse, giant venus fly traps, that wise-cracking cat thing, and, naturally, a dragon (which Tristan fights?).

Luckily, I found what you're about to see. There have been a fair share of complaints over the past hundred and forty-five years about the Wagner's Act II duet. It's just a little too long, some say (I'm not one of them)---too much time for just two people to wax poetic about their love, without much in terms of stage action. What if you could cut that down to forty seconds? Because that is the extent of Tristan & Isolde's musical wonderland (warning: the rest of this clip is in Greek, making it even more annoying).

Anyway, in the end King Mark gives up his throne to Tristan ("I can't be King! I don't know how!" "You'll learn as you go, Tristan"), and decrees that Tristan must marry Isolde. The furry cat thing, which is apparently Puck, narrates with a few closing thoughts and alludes to a sequel--there's even a quick chord resolution which almost sounds like the end of Wagner's version. And then, I kid you not, a giant venus fly trap eats Puck. In the final lines of Tristan und Isolde, Isolde sings of the rapture of dissolving into the universal Weltatem. In Tristan & Isolde, a blue cat quips "I'm going to smell for days."

We can only hope that ACD will weigh in.

Next up: Wall-Edämmerung

*If you want to gouge your eyes out, watch the first five minutes of that (hat tip to my girlfriend Halie for introducing it to me).

1 comment:

  1. Tristan fights a dragon in some of the older editions of the story. Wagner's version is much abridged. It's part of the story before Tristan and Isolde are on the boat. The idea is that whoever killed the dragon could have Isolde. Tristan kills the dragon and cuts its tongue off and then is almost killed by the smell. One of Isolde's suitors then cuts off the head and presents it as if he has killed the dragon. Isolde and her mother then find Tristan floating in pond with the tongue tucked underneath his armor. They bring Tristan back to then present the tongue that is not inside the head of the dragon and make the suitor look like a fool.